HC Deb 31 January 1963 vol 670 cc1110-3
13. Mr. J. Harvey

asked the Minister of Power how many hospitals, nursing homes, old people's homes and similar establishments in the Greater London area were deprived of heating or lighting during abnormally cold weather as a result of cuts in the electricity supply.

Mr. Wood

Electricity boards do all they can to maintain supplies to essential users like hospitals when reductions in power cannot be avoided. The figures my hon. Friend asked for are not available.

Mr. Harvey

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable public indignation that has been caused by the unnecessary danger and hardship inflicted in serious weather through irresponsible action? Have not events of recent weeks demonstrated the need for a small reserve of mobile generators, and will my right hon. Friend consult his right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments about the possibility of providing such a reserve?

Mr. Wood

I am aware of the hardship caused both by unnecessary and unavoidable shortages of electricity. I will certainly consult my other right hon. Friends on the lines that my hon. Friend has suggested.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, apart from the deprivation of supplies to hospitals, I have had a number of letters from trade unionists in my constituency complaining about the cut off of supplies to the works, bringing them to a halt, which was caused by go-slow tactics? Is that really justified?

Mr. Wood

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for telling me about his experience.

15. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Power what average deficiency of generating capacity existed at peak-hours' demand, expressed per-centum and in megawatts installed during cold weather in January, 1963, to date, excluding diminution of generation caused by work-to-rule and go-slow tactics by power station workers; and, having regard to the hardship caused to consumers of electricity, whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Wood

The maximum demand met so far this winter with all available capacity in use was 29,500 megawatts on 22nd January. The maximum potential demand on the Generating Board's system on that day was estimated at about 32,000 megawatts, so that the estimated deficiency was about 2,500 megawatts, or 8 per cent.

In recent years demand has grown more rapidly than the industry had fore-cast. In the first three weeks of January, during the long cold spell when demand was at a peak, about 1,000 megawatts of capacity was lost, mostly in the London area, because of the work-to-rule at some power stations. Had there been no work-to-rule at that time, demand could probably have been met with voltage reductions only. The breakdowns last week were caused mainly by dirt and ice on insulators which flashed over and out out some main transmission lines. In the cold foggy weather it was very difficult to repair them. I should like to congratulate the many people in the industry who did outstanding work in difficult, dangerous and unpleasant conditions to maintain supplies as well as they did, and to thank everyone who co-operated by economising on electricity consumption.

Sir G. Nabarro

Has my right hon. Friend perceived that there is now considerable public pressure to provide a reserve of generating capacity to meet a new peak demand in exceptionally adverse weather conditions, and that is the 8 par cent, to which he refers? Would my right hon. Friend say how much it would cost in terms of capital moneys to meet that 8 per cent. and whether it would be economically justifiable to do so, having regard to the fact that the extra capacity would probably He idle for 96 per cent. of the time and be employed only in these exceptional circumstances for the other 4 per cent.?

Mr. Wood

On the basis of the gap of 2,500 megawatts during the peak load on 22nd January, this would cost in capital about £250 million. That includes not only the generating capacity but the cost of all the transmission and distribution. I think that my hon. Friend will have to come to his own conclusions as to whether the immense capital investment necessary would be justified for short periods and whether it could be realised without a very considerable increase in electricity charges.

Mr. T. Fraser

The right hon. Gentleman said that the electricity industry has underestimated the increase in demand. Is it not also the fact that each year since 1956 the capital investment of the electricity industry has been restricted by the deliberate policy of the Government? In the circumstances, have not Ministers the responsibility for the shortage from which the country is at present suffering? May we have the facts of the situation?

Mr. Wood

The facts are not as the hon. Gentleman puts them. Naturally, there has always been consultation between the industry and the Government, who have to fit electricity investment, like all other investment, into their general public investment programme. There have been restrictions on occasions on the amount of investment, but I am told that the restrictions which are relevant in this connection did not, in fact, restrict the generating capacity. Therefore, they are not directly applicable to this question. I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman asked about anything else.

Mr. Fraser

I merely wanted the facts. The right hon. Gentleman says that the electricity industry underestimated the rising demand. This is widely acknowledged, but if the capital investment which the electricity industry wished had been granted by the Minister the generating capacity would have been very much larger than it is. Are not the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues responsible for that?

Mr. Wood

That is precisely the contention of the hon. Gentleman that I have been denying. Any cut which was imposed on electricity investment has not seriously affected—

Mr. Fraser

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "seriously"?

Mr. Wood

—has not seriously affected the generating capacity. There would still have been this gap left. That is what I have been trying to explain to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Shinwell

Has it ever occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that much of the generating capacity at the disposal of the Central Electricity Generating Board is completely out of date and that a substantial part of it has been in existence for many years, for far too long? That is one of the difficulties which faces the industry.

Mr. Wood

That is why the Government each year have increased the investment in electricity, and tried to replace the existing capacity with modern capacity.

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